Saturday, December 31, 2011

Adieu, 2011

Goodbye, the two thousand eleventh year of the Common Era.

You won't exactly be missed.


Friday, December 30, 2011

The Closing of the Year

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Shenanigans in the Middle East

The year's closing out with a rumble over in that part of western and southwestern Asia we like to call 'the Middle East.'

Cases in point:

If it's late December, you know you're going to see a brouhaha at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. As usual, it was the Greek Orthodox versus the Armenian Catholics, and brooms were involved. Riot police wielding batons were called out, but no arrests - these are, after all, men of the cloth and servants of the Prince of Peace, you know.

In the waters off the Red Sea coast of Yemen earlier this month an underwater volcano erupted, creating a new island. Neat, eh?

Israel saw protests against the ultra-ultra-orthodox Haredis, who are what you might want to call Jews on Steroids. They're advocating strict segregation of the sexes and what they call "proper" dress for women - sort of like the hijab or burqa, I should imagine. A ten-year-old girl was highlighted by one story; she's been harassed and called a slut and prostitute for dressing, you know, normally.

Iran, as you might have heard, may be trying to develop a nuclear weapon. In order to coerce them into not fiddling about with fissiles, Europe and the United States are threatening to set up an oil embargo, preventing Iran from selling oil. The Islamic Republic retaliated by staging naval maneuvers and stating quite baldly that they could close the vital Straits of Hormuz, which supplies about a third of the world's oil.

We take such things seriously, and the Pentagon said that we won't tolerate a closure of the Straits. We might move the Fifth Fleet in that direction, but I think they should step carefully - a US war game several years ago resulted in the opposing force sinking one of our aircraft carriers.

Shit got real for Arab League observers in Syria. They were there to monitor and investigate allegations that the Assad regime was slaughtering thousands of its own citizens in an attempt to stifle a reform movement. One team member said he saw "nothing frightening," which made me wonder if Sergeant Schultz hadn't married a nice Syrian girl after the War.

Riots are still going on in Egypt, where the people who ran out the Mubarak regime are still there, and the people would very much like them to leave, please, so they can rebuild a democratic government.

Iraq? What amazes me is they waited four whole days after we left to start things going.

We're selling F-15 air superiority fighters to Saudi Arabia. Merry Christmas, King Abdullah.

Going to be a fun year ...


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Gifts

Well, another Christmas is almost past, Dear Readers, and overall this year was a complete success.

As is traditional in my family, we had a formal sit down dinner on the 24th, followed not by the Airing of the Grievances but by the opening of presents. I got three books on African history (King Leopold's Ghost, The Scramble for Africa, and The Boer War) and a new pair of work boots. I definitely needed the latter.

Everyone else in the family was satisfied with the gifts they received, and were immensely stuffed by the meal I made. Said meal consisted of:

Prime rib with bacon-spinach stuffing
Duchess potatoes with mushroom gravy
Spiced carrots
Minty orzo with peas
Rum-raisin apple pie
Lemon fruitcake


Then I saw the news this morning, and I received another gift - the gift of delicious schadenfreude. It seems that neither Rick Perry nor Newt Gingrich will be on the ballot in Virginia when that state holds its primary later next year. You see, you need to post up ten thousand signatures in order to get on the ballot, and Rick and Newton failed to do it.

Well, no problem, you say; they'll just run a write-in campaign. Ah, but Virginia's election laws prohibit write-ins during the primaries. So Rick and Newt are left out in the cold.

Adding to this comedy of errors was the statement made by Gingrich's campaign staff, which likened the contretemps to Pearl Harbor and called it a setback (implying that the Japanese attack that killed 2,000 Americans was also a 'setback'). I'm waiting to see how that gets walked back.

Meanwhile, I shall go to bed having had a very merry Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Boehner Pwns Himself

It's not fun being Speaker John Boehner this Christmas.

I'll try to contain my laughter and deep, warm, fuzzy freudenschade.

And it started with an extension of the payroll tax cut. Earlier this year, the Democrats suggested a one-year extension, and the Republicans balked. So the Dems in the Senate suggested a two-month stopgap, and the Republicans in the Senate (after due amounts of hemming and hawing) decided it was a pretty good idea. The Senate passed it easily, with wide bipartisan support, and sent it on to the House.

And things fell apart.

I will now digress, to give you a little insight into the fundamental differences between the House of Representatives and the Senate. When the Constitution was being drawn up, Alexander Hamilton suggested that the Senate be what the House of Lords was in Britain - the Upper House, populated by people who were above the baser instincts of those drawn and elevated from the great masses of the people.

(This, by the way, is why the original version of the Constitution - now modified by the 17th Amendment - required Senators to be elected by state legislatures, not by popular vote.)

The House of Representatives, on the other hand, was to be and still is elected by popular vote. Its members tend to be passionate and somewhat more vociferous than their Senate counterparts. Some might even say 'bumptious,' requiring the Speaker to be strong leader capable of directing not only his own caucus but by negotiating in good faith with the opposition.

Okay, digression over.

The payroll tax stopgap hits the House and got hit by a dung-bomb. You see, the extreme-right-so-extreme-that-if-you-squint-they-look-anarchist wing of the GOP said no. These are the same people who'd rather see Americans lapse into poverty by the millions rather than let Obama or the Democrats be perceived as winning. Buoyed, then, by the extremists in his caucus, Boehner said no.

And the backlash began. The Right Wing Propaganda Mouthpieces (like the Wall Street Journal) stood aghast at the very idea of Republicans actually refusing a tax cut. The Senate GOP perked up, and the wrinkled old woman Minority Leader (Mitch McConnell) refused to back Boehner's bright idea of setting up a conference. Even Karl Rove weighed in, saying that the Republicans had "lost the optics."

Boehner capitulated yesterday, as his own House caucus started to fracture.

Boehner plans on putting the bill up on a unanimous consent motion, which doesn't require calling the full House back into session. However, it means that only one Republican has to object to scotch things and make the Speaker look like many are perceiving him to be - a weak leader.

The Speaker of the House cannot be a weak leader, and it's been vividly illustrated that Boehner can't even command his own caucus, much less the more fractious and bumptious Tea Party members. He's lost respect, and you can't get respect back easily once you've lost it.

If one, just one, GOP House member says no to the motion approving the bill, payroll taxes will go up and the blame will be laid completely at the feet of the Republican House caucus and its leader, Speaker John Boehner. People will get extremely pissed at seeing their taxes go up while the GOP continues to insist on lowering taxes on the insanely rich.

One analyst suggested a fight developing, behind the scenes right now, between partisans within the House GOP.

Watch closely, and have some popcorn or Raisinets handy.

We may have Speaker Eric Cantor by Groundhog Day.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

That Was Quick

Four days ago the last US troops left Iraq.

Barely had the dust settled on the highway leading out into Kuwait than things went to shit. I have to confess, it was quicker than I expected, but in hindsight you can see where it was starting.

Years ago, on this very bit of blogging soil, Dear Reader, I predicted that when we left Iraq - no matter when we inevitably left that country - the Shiite majority and the Sunni minority would come to blows. The Sunnis have been the ruling faction in Iraq ever since the British created the nation out of several Ottoman provinces after the Great War and installed a Hashemite monarch from the Hejaz.

The Shiites are now in power, and simmering tensions are now coming to a boil. The political infighting that prevented a viable governing coalition in Baghdad for months got worse as soon as the Americans left.

Iraqi PM Maliki has issued an arrest warrant for Vice President al-Hashemi, alleging terrorism and purported ties to death squads. Al-Hashemi has hightailed it to Kurdistan.

And in a coordinated attack reminiscent of so many over the past years, fourteen bombs have gone off, killing about 70 and injuring 200.

Now, many people are going to excoriate President Obama for "leaving too early." But it wouldn't have mattered if we had left five years ago, or fifty years from now.

I'm just surprised they waited four days to start up.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bob Dole Puts The Evil Eye on Mitt Romney

It had to happen.

The feckless cadre of lunatics and has-beens that comprise the Republican Party's Presidential candidate field have started to trawl for endorsements with all the enthusiasm and creativity of a bum wiping your windshield at an intersection.

The difference is the bum's going to do something constructive with the money he gets for wiping windows.

In advance of the Iowa Caucuses, which are coming up soon in much the same way a liver pate and egg nog smoothie comes up soon, the Des Moines Register endorsed Willard Romney in an editorial that can basically be summed up as, "Meh. He'll do."

Big names are starting to show up now. The biggest - literally - is New Jersey Governor Chris "William Howard Taft Lookalike Contest Runner-Up" Christie, who's apparently been satisfied with Romney's taint-licking prowess.

The Taliban Wing of the GOP is anxiously awaiting Sarah Palin's decision on who she'll endorse. She's playing her usual stupid-coy game, trying to bask in the warm sunlight rain of dollars a little while more.

And now Bob Dole is endorsing Romney.

War hero.

Former longtime Senator from Kansas.

Ran alongside Jerry Ford against Jimmy Carter in 1976 . . . and lost.

Ran against Bill Clinton . . . and lost.

I can hear it in the Romney camp now:


From Our "No! Really?" Files

Christmas Division.

Ah, yes, 'tis the season, isn't it? Culture warriors are out in force, screaming "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" at you as if it were some kind of magic incantation to ward off secularism, stores started flogging seasonal bargains sometime around Labor Day . . .

And a Michigan neighborhood was accused of being pagans.

An anonymous letter was sent around to the people who live on Vintage Drive in the town of Hudsonville telling them that stringing lights, putting up trees and hanging mistletoe was to honor the 'pagan Sun-god,' and not to honor The Borg of Religions.



The early Church moved the exact date of Jesus' birth to December 25th back about 1600 years or so ago (the exact date's anyone's guess - hell, it could be April Fool's Day), probably to coincide with the old Mithraic Feast of the Unconquered Sun. It would make a lot of sense; the 25th is close to the winter solstice, and said solstice is the longest night of the year. Sun or Son, the Church decided if you can't beat 'em, assimilate 'em.

Lights, trees and mistletoe are all pagan, yes indeed. So's the date, and so's practically everything else associated with Christmas. There are even pagan analogs of Jesus' birth.

And I really question the faith and conviction of the letter writer, who published anonymously.

So drink your egg nog, you anonymous asshole, and Merry Christmas.

He's Not So Ronery Now

Kim Jong Il is dead. North Korea announced last night that the 'Dear Leader' had died at the age of 69, and has been duly succeeded by his youngest son, Kim Jong Un.

Note the adjective 'youngest.'

Jong Un's got two older brothers, who might conceivably harbor a soupcon of resentment at being cut out of the dynastic succession (the DPRK's unique even among Communist countries in that regard). Remember Fredo in Godfather II?

Yeah, like that.

According to the analysts, the young man's uncle is the Gray Eminence in Pyongyang. We'll have to see what develops. The rest of Asia is watching as well, and the markets took a dive on the news.

Because the one thing we don't want to see in a small, authoritarian, impoverished nation with a nuclear arsenal is uncertainty at the top.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Knock on the Door in the Middle of the Night

Countless millions throughout the old Eastern Bloc spoke of it - a nocturnal visit by the secret police. Whether it was the KGB, the Securitate, the Stasi, by whatever name it had, the State's security apparatus was feared.

It was also hated, but we will overlook that for now. It is not germane to our story.

What is germane is the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Recently passed by the idiots in the Congressional Republican Caucus and the weak sisters in the Congressional Democratic Caucus (SHAME on all of you - especially you, Levin!) it contains a provision that had, until yesterday, drawn a veto threat from the Obama White House.

That provision, quite essentially, allows the President of the United States to bypass the Constitution and lock anyone up indefinitely as a suspected terrorist. That includes American citizens.

You heard me right.

The Constitution doesn't matter any more, since the White House has signaled that it will sign this abomination into law.

Right to trial by jury? You'll be lucky to get a military tribunal.

Right to face your accuser? The evidence against you will likely be secret, so you'll never see it.

Right to an attorney? Don't make me laugh.

Right to habeas corpus? That's such a pre-9/11 concept.

Right to avoid self-incrimination? Doesn't matter; you'll be waterboarded until you talk (or they'll send you somewhere where you'll be 'persuaded' to talk).

Right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment? Don't make me laugh. A society that pepper-sprays peaceful protesters and uses Tasers on small children has forgotten what "cruel and unusual" means.

Now, I hear your objections. "I'm not a terrorist. I have nothing to fear from this law. It's for the good of our country and the preservation of our freedoms."


The law allows anyone, anyone, to be locked up forever if the President decides it's "all for the good of the country." What's to stop Obama from locking up the entire GOP caucus? Or a future Republican President deciding to dust off Nixon's "enemies list" and ordering the military to start conducting mass arrests of undesirables?

(Which is why I'm particularly incensed at Senator Carl Levin. As a Jew, he must surely realize the effects of this Nacht und Nebel Erlass he's supporting.)

If this becomes law, the knock on the door in the middle of the night will become part of America.

And we will finally have lost the War on Terror.

UPDATE: Extra Irony Points, people! The Congress passed this abominable bill on "Bill of Rights Day!" Isn't that fun?

Welcome Home

A ceremony is underway in Baghdad today. After more than eight years, the loss of thousands of American lives, the loss of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, and the loss of trillions of dollars ...

The Iraq War is over.

Today, dignitaries will make speeches about What It All Meant, the colors will be cased, and we will hopefully no longer hear of another flag-draped casket coming to Dover AFB from Iraq.

Welcome home, ladies and gentlemen.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

How the World is Handling the GOP Candidates

In a word, very badly.

What with mistaking the continent of Africa as a country, and Herman Cain not knowing what is going on in Libya (but does know that the Taliban are running things), and Michelle Bachmann saying that the pseudoscientific claptrap that is "Intelligent Design" is actually teachable scientific fact, the figures the various candidates for the Republican field are cutting are sorry ones indeed.

But how does the rest of the world view these shenanigans?

In a word ... well, you get the idea.

Marc Pitzke, reporting for Der Spiegel, writes a very damning look at the people running for the leadership of the free world. A few lines will give you the flavor of the article, and how the Germans feel about things:

Yet just like any freakshow, this one would be unthinkable without a stage (in this case, the media, strangling itself with all its misunderstood "political correctness" and "objectivity") and an audience (the party base, which this year seems to have suffered a political lobotomy).

We're losing (if we haven't already lost) what credibility we still had in the world, and quite frankly the rest of the planet's getting pants-shittingly scared of what might happen next year when the election comes on November 6th (and NOT November 12, as Rick Perry said recently).

Here's another example, courtesy of Hospodarske noviny, from the Czech Republic:

The world is divided into two halves: the “right” one, where the desired condition has been achieved, and the one where it must be fought for by any means necessary. There’s not a lot of room for commentary on the “right of nations to self-determination” here. And then America is sincerely surprised that it doesn’t just have friends everywhere.

The One-Percent Holiday Song

(Sung to the tune of 'O Tannenbaum,' because why not.)

Oh Ninety-nine, oh Ninety-nine,
Why are you so sad this year?

Oh Ninety-nine, oh Ninety-nine,
Why should I shed a single tear?

This Christmastime it's plain to see
It's none for you, and all for me!

Oh Ninety-nine, oh Ninety-nine,
Why don't you get off your lazy rear?